The History of Jawa

On the 23rd of January 1878, Frantisek Janecek was born in Klaster nad Dedinou, one of the smallest villages of East Bohemia in former Czechoslovakia. He studied mechanics at the technical school in Prague and continued with his studies at the college of Berlin. He then returned to Prague, where he started to work for Kolben in Vysocany (one of the biggest companies in Bohemia).

At the age of 23, he was entrusted with the management of a new factory in Holland, where he met his future wife.

One day riding his bicycle on the way to his work, he was accidentally hit by a car. The driver of this car took him home, and the driver’s daughter nursed him. Some time later he married this young lady.

At the age of 31, he started to work independently and opened his own mechanical workshop in Prague. After a short active duty at the Italian front during World War I, he went back to the drawing board and soon he obtained about sixty patents. The most well known invention of that time was Janecek’s hand grenade.

After the decline of the armament industry in 1929, Janecek decided to start the production of motorcycles immediately. There was no time to develop an engine of his own. Janecek chose between the Austrian double piston two-stroke motor of Puch, the Berlin two-stroke of Schliha, and the new Wanderer 500 cc.

Janecek chose the Wanderer.

Because of the collapse of the German motor industry, Wanderer had already decided to stop the production. This is because they didn’t think it would be profitable to directly compete with BMW. The name JAWA came from the first two letters of Janecek and Wanderer.

Although he didn’t have any experience with motorcycles, he was familiar with production techniques. When the first Jawa 500 came on the market, it already had a front fork from pressed steel plates and a saddle gas tank instead of a triangular gas tank. After that followed improvements on the ball-head lubrication system, the cylinder head, the connecting-rod bearings and the Carter de-aerating.

In the thirties most motorcycles were 500 cc Motorcycles with sidecars had a displacement of 750 cc Janecek thought otherwise and started the production of a lightweight two-stroke engine.

For this he obtained the expertise of the English engineer and racing enthusiast G.W. Patchett, who brought the Villiers 175cc one cylinder two-stroke to Prague. They built a light and simple motorcycle for the British engine. This lightweight and simple motorcycle soon gained a following.

It only cost 4250 kronen (compared to 7000 or more for other bikes). In 1933 this Jawa was the most popular motorcycle in Czechoslovakia and the Jawa factory took the big 500cc bikes out of production.

For a stronger engine, Janecek developed the Jawa 350 SV four-stroke, one year later followed by the 350 OHV four-stroke. Technically the most interesting model before World War II was the Jawa robot. This 98cc.

Two-stroke had a mono-block construction which means the gearbox is integrated in the motor block. This is common now, but at that time all motors had separate gearboxes. The top speed was about 41 mph.

All of the pre World War II models were only available in red.

The second world war meant the end of the development and production of Jawa motor cycles. Already in April 1939 the Jawa factory had to switch over. The Germans that occupied Czechoslovakia from 1938 on, knew that the factory was high tech and had skilled workers.

The factory retooled to make parts for airplane motors and stationary motors for generators. However nobody believed that the Third Reich would last for more than a few years, so the Czech laborers tried to sabotage production and already started looking forward to the after-war period.

In 1940 Janecek started working on a new motorcycle based on the wishes of the customers and current developments in the industry. (In 1941 Frantisek Janecek died, leaving the company to his son Karel.) The new model had to be reliable, simple, and comfortable. This model was given birth in the service department, that also carried out repairs for the German army. Called Perak ( to spring ) it was painted army green and tested under the eyes of the German occupier.

This way Jawa earned an advantage on the competitor and with the Perak the base was laid for the after-war production. This concept with it’s round forms probably served as an example for the rest of the world.

Immediately after the war, Jawa was the first motorcycle company on the European continent that came on the market with a well tried and modern new bike. This was in the form of a 249 cc. one cylinder two-stroke. Unfortunately Jawa was nationalized by the communists and Janecek junior left the country.

In 1948 the first series of 350 cc’s appeared in the frame used by the 250 cc. This model was first introduced as Jawa-Ogar, because it was produced at the factory of the third Czechoslovakian motor company; Ogar. Yet, the same year, this factory became part of the Jawa factory. The Jawa 350 cc. had a two cylinder engine, based on the Jawa 250 cc. The motor had flat pistons, reverse flow and a capacity of 348cc.

The top speed was about 65 mph. When four-stroke motors were introduced, Jawa followed the way. As a base model the OHC two cylinder was developed for a series of road racing motors. In 1952 the Jawa four stroke 500 cc. OHC, type 15/00 came out.

With some improvements through the years, the last 500cc came out in 1958.

The reason Jawa stopped the development of the 500cc four-stroke was due to production difficulties. A shame from technical viewpoint, but economically understandable. The new look was two new side cabins and a third one under the buddyseat. The wheel suspension was hydraulic shock absorbers with long stroke for both front and rear wheels. In 1954 the new 250 cc and 350 cc went into production as Jawa-Cz.

Shortly after introduction, these motorcycles were given the nickname kyvacka (swing). The official model was Jawa-Cz 353 and 354. From these motorcycles Jawa-Cz also made lighter versions like a 125cc and a 175cc.

The increase of the spring stroke lead to the decrease of the wheel size from 19 to 16. When the Soviet Union became a market, the production concentrated on the Jawa 354, that had a sidecar available. At that time the almighty communist president of Czechoslovakia, Novotny said socialists don’t drive motorcycles. In spite of all this and the entrance of the Japanese motorcycles, Jawa still survived.

It wasn’t easy because of the changing market, and an economy that has suffered a lot from almost fifty years of communist economics.

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